Ahhh, the '90s. Chokers, Eight Ball jackets, ripped jeans, grungy boys wearing their hearts on sleeves, and women owning their sexuality in lyrics. Social media was non-existent, gas was 99 cents a gallon, and you could *69 any missed calls. What a time to be a youth.
So when Ilani invited me to come to the I Love the 90s tour at the just-opened-a-week-ago Cowlitz Ballroom, I had to say yes. It took me a bit to come to terms with things from my youth now on the casino circuit (“Isn't that for people like George Thorogood, or however many dogs are left of Three Dog Night?”), the bill was too good to pass up: C+C Music Factory, Young MC, Tone Lōc, Salt-N-Pepa, and Vanilla Ice.
We made the 30-minute trek to Ridgefield, to the expansive new casino complete with nine restaurants and a ballroom with a multi-thousand capacity. I’m one of those people who doesn’t understand gambling, Sudoku, or March Madness brackets, but there were seemingly thousands of light-up slot machines, with themes from Friends to Michael Jackson, spinning and beeping along with the table games. Perhaps the best secret of the casino is that if you gain access to the cushy VIP Lounge, drinks are all half-price, even better than most happy hours.
After downing a couple of margaritas for under 10 bucks, we joined the line of thousands to get inside the metaphorical DeLorean and travel back to 1993. The massive hall was standing-room-only, carpeted, and filled to the brim with some of the most questionable fashion choices I ever seen assembled in one room.
C+C Music Factory original vocalist Freedom Williams still could “Make You Go Hmmm” just as well decades later. And Young MC proved he can still do the Fastest Rhyme you might remember from people trying and failing to replicate it at house parties. In between sets, a Batman jersey-clad DJ played any and all '90s hits while the crowd, most between 35 and 50, screamed for all of it. Bell Biv Devoe? Screams. Nirvana? Screams. Oddly some Journey? Still screams! By the time Tone Lōc came out in his Jordan jacket, people were revved up enough that when he said “let’s do it” in his deep throaty voice, the cheers were deafening.
But then came the ladies. And I mean the ladies. Salt-N-Pepa changed the conversation in the nation with their 1990 hit “Let’s Talk About Sex,” pushing forward the idea of normalizing sexuality. By the time Very Necessary hit in ’93 with the mega hits like “Shoop,” “Whatta Man,” and “None of Your Business,” the trio were fashion icons with their famous "Push It" jackets and use of color. They racked up nominations and awards for the American Music Awards, Grammys, VMAs, and influenced a future generation of female artists. Hell, Beyoncé and her daughter even dressed up as Salt and Pep for Halloween.
The group, still the three of them together 30 years later, blew away everyone else. From their rhinestone-studded hats to Pep’s sky-high boots, their looks were still on fire, and they danced, entertained, and even apologized to all of us who got in trouble for listening to their sexy albums (hand raised). Their set transformed the carpeted ballroom of a casino and was as impressive as I’d hoped it would be when I wanted to attend one of their concerts 25 years ago.
In a misstep, Vanilla Ice headlined the show. After the lovely fun vibe of Salt-N-Pepa and a buzzing crowd, a youthful-looking Ice came out with a masked DJ, a dancer in a circus ensemble, and a lot of stage smoke to do the rock-rap thing. After a few bars of “Go ninja, go ninja, go,” he started tossing water at the audience—and I bounced.
If you’re ready to dive into the '90s casino vibe, Ilani just booked Third Eye Blind for next month. Be prepared to feel old, but kind of OK with it.